Man in the Iron Mask/C+,A-

MGM-UAl/1998/144m/ANA,WS 2.35

     Try as he might, Randall Wallace fails to instill any excitement or life into this latest adaptation of The Man in the Iron Mask. The colorful costumes and settings are trapped in a sluggish script that trips over awkward dialogue. When it tries to be cavalier, its usually pompous, and often, when it tries to be humorous its too crude. Wallace, as you may know, is the author of the Braveheart script, a film that certainly exhibited all the flare and dashing quality absent from The Man in the Iron Mask.
     You could probably dub this version of The Man in the Iron Mask, "The Return of the Three Musketeers." Much of the exposition is devoted to examining the lives of the legendary musketeers in their senior years. This section of the film comes off as  pale reminder of the energy with which Richard Lester infused his two musketeer adventures. Wallace does not show a deft touch with humor. 

Lush production design without a mega-budget. ©MGM

     The story of The Man in the Iron Mask revolves around the twins separated at birth, one France's king, ruling with casual decadence , the other a prisoner locked away and hidden even from himself by the iron mask covering his face. There are those on the periphery of that know of the imprisoned twin, and as political unrest rocks the foundations of Paris, a plot is hatched to replace King Louis XIV with the mostly forgotten prisoner. It's up to the three musketeers, defenders of France, to succeed in righting a foundering mother country. 
     The busy details surrounding the adventure detract from the thrust of a musketeer's sword. Wallace's action film lacks the robust action and charm from which other musketeer films have benefited.
    Gabriel Byrne plays D'Artagnan as used up and lovelorn. Whatever happened to the verve that these musketeers had in youth? John Malkovich plays Athos with typical arch dialog delivery. I could never believe John Malkovich could kick my butt in a fight, much less the best of the king's musketeers and anyone else who might cross his ferocious (sic) path. Gerard Depardieu has some especially French humorous moments as the lustful Porthos, pining for the memory of youth's sexual prowess. Jeremy is an all too  pious  Aramis.  Which brings us to Leonardo DiCaprio.
Fans of  Leonardo DiCaprio will be happy getting a double dose of the young actor playing King Louis and his twin brother freshly out of the iron mask Phillippe.    
     Vivid production design was accomplished on a less than a mega-budget. The photography captures the sweep and grandeur of opulent France.
     The DVD Video is excellent. The dark interiors have fine shadow detail. The visual star of the DVD is the beautiful exteriors. Scenes in the gardens are lively with colors that pop off the screen. The Dolby Digital 5:1 mix is clear and dialog  clean, but surround information is not aggressive.
     Wallace is articulate and enthusiastic in his audio commentary. He shares information about actor's acting styles, the problems of production design, and the respect each of the actor's had for one another. In fact, often the commentary has more life and energy than the film. Wallace comfortable Southern speech makes for pleasant listening.

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